One of the most obvious signs of a leaking radiator is a visible coolant leak. Coolant, also known as antifreeze, comes in a variety of bright colors and usually has a sweet smell. It also tends to be sticky. Check underneath the car for a puddle that matches this description. Note that coolant can also leak from hoses and other parts of the engine, so a puddle is not a positive sign that the radiator is leaking. Carefully clean up the puddle, as antifreeze is extremely toxic to both humans and animals, and have your car checked as soon as possible.
Another big warning sign is steam coming from the engine when it is warm. The radiator is pressurized. When fluid escapes at high temperature and high pressure, it escapes as steam.
Your coolant warning light will likely come on if your radiator is leaking, and your car may begin to overheat. Although overheating can also be caused by other issues, frequent overheating, especially when combined with the coolant warning light, should cause you to suspect a radiator leak.
The most common cause of a radiator leak is a buildup of corrosion, often caused by poor maintenance habits. Over time, coolant sours, becoming acidic. It can even become conductive, creating electrolysis that eats away at the radiator.
Another possibility, though highly unlikely if you use a trusted mechanic, is over-filling the radiator. The increased water pressure can cause leaks.
A third cause is a problem in another part of the system. A failing heater core or thermostat can allow the radiator to get too hot and become over-pressurized.
Getting It Fixed
The best solution is to stop driving immediately and contact your auto repair technician for advice. Depending on the nature of the leak, the ambient weather, and even the distance to the shop, it may be safe to drive the car in for repairs. Or getting a tow truck may be the safer solution.
There are a variety of stop-gap remedies, from commercial leak stopping fluids to homemade concoctions. These may temporarily seal the leak for a few days, to give you time to schedule a repair, or they may make the problem worse. Again, ask your auto technician for a professional recommendation.
In some cases, the radiator can be professionally repaired. The most likely outcome, though, is a new radiator (assuming that the radiator itself is the problem). Your mechanic will carefully examine the entire cooling system to pinpoint the issue and provide the proper fix.
If you are tired of getting the runaround and being treated like you haven’t got a clue, we invite you to try Colchin Automotive instead. Give us a call at 303-431-5421 for all of your automotive needs!